I've forgotten to write a blog post this week as I've been busy writing a presentation to deliver to my industrial PhD partners. I've also been playing far too much roller derby (if such a thing exists) for my poor arms to cope with. A new regular feature has therefore been created from my lack of free time and energy - a pictorial run through of my recent happenings in the lab. I hope you enjoy the photos and the insight into my PhD!
Let's start with an old photo to ease us in. I wish my fume cupboard was still this clean and well organised. Unfortunately I am all to used to the perils of working with wood that stains everything it touches!
These test tubes are from a flash chromatography system. Flash chromatography is faster at separating compounds than gravity chromatography because it uses pressure to push the compounds through the column. Look at the pretty variations in colour!
You can also separate compounds using a funnel like this one. Here the sugars from my bark extract are creating a circular pattern on top of the liquid.
The layers of filter paper resulting from my recent extraction methodology look like a rather pretty brown speckled poppy. Shame it doesn't smell like one too.
Finally, my top success for the week was finding a solvent system that would dissolve 3 very different compounds. This is a photo of one of the failures, as you can see from the undissolved substance on the right.
That's all from me this week - how was your week in or out of the lab?
I should probably be talking about the Higgs boson today, as most people with access to the internet will hopefully now recognise the evidential possibility of its existence according to preliminary data posted by Cern yesterday. That is, if they weren't distracted by the life-changing headlines about Justin Bieber throwing a tantrum. (I won't even honour that mention with a link).
Anyway, instead of thinking about the Higgs boson I've been directing my attention towards my dissertation. The loving memory of my dissertation that I handed in on May 1st this year has sprung back into my life, as I've been asked by my former supervisor to write an essay about my research, in the hope that some lovely people will give me an award for all of my hard work. In a way my dissertation was somewhat like the Higgs boson before today: hard to find (amongst the crates of degree related folders) and difficult to understand (I presented it to my Mother to read and she didn't even understand the title). Hopefully I can remedy the latter by explaining my project, for those of you who are interested - ie. my Mother, in this post.
I spent six months almost solidly in the lab, from October 2011 to March 2012, working on the "Synthesis of Norlignan Derivatives". What I did during those six months was to spend every free minute of my time (when not in lectures or eating lunch) wearing my lab coat, working out quantities of chemicals to use, mixing chemicals, monitoring reactions, hoping the reactions worked, working out why they didn't work, extracting products, weighing yields, working out which liquid chemicals (solvent systems) I should put together to separate out and purify my products, purifying my products in a long drip-drop process (normal phase column chromatography), washing thousands of vials, working out the structure of the products I had made using fancy instruments (NMR, IR, GC-MS) and finally, writing my dissertation. (Phew - I hope you got all of that!)
I was trying to make a compound with something new stuck on the side of it, that may exhibit greater anti-inflammatory properties than the same compound without that new thing stuck on the side of it (see diagram below). I won't go into too much detail about the chemistry here, but I will say that it took 5 steps and some interesting reactions to get to the end product.
Unfortunately the final reaction failed and I got a slightly different product than I intended. However it could still show good anti-inflammatory properties and I got a chance to show off my theoretical knowledge by explaining why I think it happened. Explaining why things went wrong is possibly my second favourite thing about chemistry experiments, the first being working out the structures of compounds (which is easily fueled by my love of nuclear magnetic resonance).
So that's my final year project dissertation, hopefully explained simply enough that my Mother understands it, but with enough science in it that I can justify posting it here! If you're a science-type and want to know more about my project, I'm always very happy to discuss it in more detail, just get in touch. My project was definitely my favourite thing about final year and probably the best piece of academic writing I've produced so far. Now I just have to explain to my Mother what my placement project was all about...anyone for a slice of zeolite?